In 1961, Father Jerald Merrill, a Catholic priest, was assigned to the “Our Lady of Guadalupe” Mission on the West side of Salt Lake City, Utah. With the mission having recently received a new building, all adults of the parish were invited to monthly meetings of the Guadalupana Society—a group which met to discuss problems pertaining to their mission. A few months after his arrival, Father Merrill created a branch of the Guadalupana Society that focused on social programs meant to solve the Hispanic community’s problems. In a rented room underneath the Rio Grande Hotel, Merrill and other members founded the precursor to the Guadalupe Center. Later, in 1966 and under the direction of Manuel G. Martinez and Oliver Ulibarri, volunteers helped to open a larger version of the center on 346 West 100 South with faith that the center would become a focal point for local Hispanics.
After its opening, the center focused on projects for the economic and professional development and well-being of the Hispanic community. The Westside Catholic Credit Union focused on helping local members of the community to build capital. The Voluntary Improvement Program taught English and other valuable skills. A cooperative store was opened to serve poorer families in the area. Additionally, the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corporation collaborated with multiple churches and cooperative associations in the area to rehabilitate houses in the inner city region. The Guadalupe Center served as a clearinghouse for information on these and other services and coordinated support for the city’s Hispanic population. The center was also the birthplace for Hispanic activist group SOCIO, which helped pave the way for Latino civil rights throughout Utah.
To create capital that could be reinvested into these programs, leaders decided to open La Morena Café as part of the center. Started just six months after the opening of the Guadalupe Center, La Morena proved immensely valuable. In addition to the profit it eventually generated, enough to support many of the Center’s programs, it also unified a diverse set of people—both hispanic and non-hispanic—in the community through its warm atmosphere and authentic Mexican cuisine. La Morena became a welcoming place for all and encapsulated the vision of Father Merrill through its ability to unify the community.
In 1986, after their rented lot was bought to build the Triad center, the original Guadalupe Center closed its doors. However, the center’s aims extended into the Guadalupe School which continues to operate today. The school provides personalized education for children with a focus on those in the Latinx community. For Latinx adults the center provides English classes, citizenship classes, and career planning. Since its inception, the spirit of the Guadalupe Center and those who founded it continue to better the lives and welfare of members of the Utah Latinx community.